WARM ADVICE: Top tips to get ready for winter creep of chilly weather costs.
WARM ADVICE: Top tips to get ready for winter creep of chilly weather costs.

Finance freeze: Prepping for winter chills and bills

AS WE head into winter, now is the time to check your home heating appliances - and your home and contents cover.

The cooler months typically see an uptick in home insurance claims with a rise of up to 47 per cent in colder states like NSW though Victoria leads the country for claims in winter. Sadly, these claims are often the result of fire damage caused by dodgy appliances.

Research shows some of the most common causes of home fires in winter involve embers escaping from open fireplaces, electric heaters being knocked over, faulty electric blankets and even bathroom heat lamps exploding when they become clogged with dust.

That makes it worth keeping your home safe by giving heating equipment a once-over and a thorough clean. If in doubt, consider replacing older appliances. It's better to be safe than sorry.

It also makes sense to check that your home and contents insurance is up to date.  Winter doesn't just bring increased risks of fire damage, it can also deliver some wild weather.

Most Australians have home building and contents insurance, but many of us don't have enough cover to protect what can be our most valuable asset - one that usually goes hand in hand with a substantial mortgage.

It's estimated that four out of five Australian homes are underinsured - meaning the property is covered for less than 90 per cent of rebuilding costs. It's an easy trap to fall into because home owners, understandably, simply don't know what it would cost to repair or rebuild their homes. Yet that's exactly what the "sum insured" is supposed to represent. The bottom line is that a lot of people are relying on some very rubbery figures to insure their home.

Playing a guessing game with home insurance can mean finding yourself wildly out of pocket at claim time - something that can be financially and emotionally devastating. Frankly, it's not worth the risk.

The good news is that a new home insurance calculator is available on the Understanding Insurance website. It provides a clear picture of the likely cost to rebuild your home, and it's based on data from building cost estimator Cordell using the most up to date information to provide real-time cost estimates.

The calculator is worth a look - a colleague put her home to the test and was amazed to see the cost to rebuild her place is double what she expected. It's a problem that's easily solved. Paying just a bit more in premiums often buys a lot more cover.

The insurance calculator isn't just handy for current home owners. It can also be a great tool if you're a home buyer, helping you predict the possible cost of insuring a property you're planning to buy.

Paul Clitheroe is a founding director of financial planning firm ipac, Chairman of the Australian Government Financial Literacy Board and chief commentator for Money Magazine.